Three weeks ago, if you had told me that you thought LeBron James was the greatest basketball player of all time, I would have done the annoying thing where I scrunch my face up and pantomime comparing weights on my hands and go Ehhhhhhhhh and launch into an intolerable disquisition about pure basketball excellence versus the more amorphous concept of “greatness” and how you certainly could make a strong case that LeBron is better than Michael but that’s a different thing from him being greater than Michael and Ehhhhhhh, I dunno, to me, man, I still think Michael is greater, and then either we would have a nuanced, complex discussion about different ways of trying to measure greatness or you would punch me in the face, and either of those would be fine, really. Now, today, if LeBron is your choice for GOAT, I don’t know if you’re right or wrong, but also, I don’t care. I am pretty chill about it. I think that’s as good as we’re going to get on the GOAT discussion, at least until somebody averages 100 points a game and wins a dozen championships and levitates before our eyes.
When you talk about, say, Allen Iverson’s “legacy,” you are talking about stuff like his role in the evolution of the scoring guard, his cultural importance, the dress code that arrived as a backlash to him having become the face of the NBA, and so on. When you talk about LeBron James’s “legacy,” you’re just talking about whether he is the GOAT. People have been talking about whether he is or would be or could be the GOAT since he was like 17 years old.
Is he the GOAT? I don’t know! But he just crumpled up a 73-win juggernaut and dunked it in the trash nearly singlehandedly, and Michael never had to do anything with even 75 percent the degree of difficulty that involved. I don’t know if that makes LeBron the GOAT. I just know that his résumé is unimpeachable. Between his pure basketball abilities, which are unrivaled in the history of the sport, and what he now has done with them, if you want to call him the GOAT, that is okay. We do not have to have a nuanced, complex discussion about anything. I will just nod, sagely, and go Mmmm and gaze out at the waves lapping at the shoreline, because that is a perfectly fine choice and also we are at the beach in this hypothetical, where all such concerns are as nothing next to the steady pulse of wild nature. Let’s throw bread to the seagulls!